In May 1536 the court – perhaps even the whole of London – was uneasy and twitchy. Their Queen was imprisoned in the Tower, accused of fearful things, her trial set for the 15th of May. Things were never to be as they were before. King Henry – one way or another – was going to find himself back in the marriage market sooner rather than later. The rumours that had been circulating about him and the daughter of Sir John Seymour since the beginning of the year picked up a new context.
Henry had Jane Seymour moved to new lodgings in Chelsea, only about a mile from the King’s own residence, where she was attended (according to the Imperial Ambassador Chapuys) “splendidly… by the King’s cook and other officers” and was “most richly dressed”. Clearly Henry had already decided on and proposed marriage to Jane, despite the fact that Anne hadn’t even had her trial yet. Part of the great attraction of Jane for Henry was the sense that she was pure and unspoiled and not mired in the muck of the real world (nothing like the highly opinionated, politically motivated and flirtatious Anne Boleyn). It must have seemed imperative that he remove her from the court until things died down and kept her innocent and unbesmirched by gossip and scandal!
At some point between Jane’s move to Chelsea on the 14th and Anne’s execution on the 19th of May, Henry sent Jane a letter:
My dear friend and mistress,
The bearer of these few lines from thy entirely devoted servant will deliver into thy fair hands a token of my true affection for thee, hoping you will keep it for ever in your sincere love for me. Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us, which if it go much abroad and is seen by you, I pray you to pay no manner of regard to it. I am not at present informed who is the setter forth of this malignant writing, but if he is found out he shall be straitly punished for it. For the things ye lacked I have minded my lord to supply them to you as soon as he can buy them. Thus hoping shortly to receive you in these arms, I end for the present your own loving servant and sovereign,
Every time I read this letter I wish we still had the lyrics to this ‘derisive ballad’! It certainly must have been a brave man to write down and distribute what he thought of his monarch’s dizzying wife-swapping (it was only going to get worse, mate…).
If you compare this – this one surviving letter between Henry and his third wife – to letters he wrote Anne in the 1520s, it really highlights the difference between Henry’s consuming passion for one and his steady fondness for the other. Henry’s letters to Anne are ablaze with lustful rhetoric; he cannot compliment her enough, or lament the distance between them any more. This letter to Jane is much calmer, perhaps due to its functional and hasty nature – because who knows? Maybe Henry wrote Jane letters telling her she had beautiful breasts too..!